This third article in this series about being politically savvy in the workplace builds upon the foundational insights of the prior two articles.
Office Politics I addressed the issue of neutralizing a toxic person at your workplace instead of committing either of the two fatal errors of trying to make them a friend or treating them like an enemy. Instead, we want to neutralize their toxic effect upon the work environment.
Office Politics II showed you how to use public displays of camaraderie to neutralize “behind your back” toxic communications.
This article looks at another technique for neutralizing a dangerous colleague in the workplace.
Judo and Karate
I’m not very good at either but have had lessons and advanced a ways into the rainbow of belts in both judo and karate. I know enough to really make a dangerous opponent even madder at me than they were before. But I did learn a fundamental difference between the two martial arts.
Karate involves a lot of blocks, punches and hits. Its fundamental nature is one of direct confrontation. An arm is thrown up to strike and block a blow. A kick releases the terrific power of leg muscles directly at a point of contact with the opponent. Again, karate is essentially direct blows.
Judo, on the other hand, uses the forward momentum of the opponent against them. Their charge towards you is gracefully turned into a sweeping curve that redirects their force in another direction and causes them to fall or be off balance. Let’s look at how this can play out in the almost martial setting of office politics.
Judo Words Instead of Karate Confrontation
We want to learn to use these ideas to avoid direct confrontation with the toxic words of our nastiest colleagues and redirect their forceful communications away and use it against them.
This is an article, not a book, so I’m going to focus on one practical example of how to apply this concept. Are you ready?
Application: Erase the word “but” from your vocabulary and replace it with “yes.”
I remember when a co-worker and friend of mine finally figured out I was doing this. An angry customer or co-worker would try to attack me and by the end of the encounter they were agreeing with me and smiling. My friend was amazed and couldn’t figure out what I was doing for a long time. After one rather heated beginning with the same collegial outcome, he rushed over to me with a big smile on his face.
“I got you,” he said. “You never confronted them with the word ‘but’ as I and almost everyone would do in our attempt to defend ourselves. Instead, you said, ‘and’ and totally took the wind out of their sails.”
He was right. After I began my first sentence with “and,” I would restate what they had said, reinforcing points I could agree with. As I talked, I would slowly move the conversation to where I wanted it. The force of their anger was redirected, diffused and their attack ended up being used against them.
Why This Works So Well
One of the reasons this works so well is that their mental rehearsal, their planning for this confrontation, has been dependent upon a confrontation. They have planned for karate blows back and forth with them as the bigger and stronger opponent. The switch to a different form (judo instead of karate) throws them off their plan and stops the attack. They literally don’t know what to do next.
I believe what happens is that they are momentarily stopped and don’t know what to do or say. At that point of vulnerability, they hear me (or you) agreeing with them. Their awkwardness is relieved by agreeing with me agreeing with them. Therefore, the entire dynamics have changed with one critical difference–I’m in control!
There are other judo words. Experiment, find and use them. They are more subtle than karate words but oh, so much more powerful.
This leads us to the next article in this series, “Even Hitler Needed a Friend.” You might see this one as a little slimy but sometimes you do what you’ve got to do.
I hope you enjoyed this tip. Now get out there and do your share of neutralizing the acidity and have fun while you’re at it.